Not Exactly Mary Poppins: On the Obstacles Nannies Face

"In our field it’s typically called Mommy and me, but we like to be a bit more inclusive,” my boss told me as we sat in his lush office. The business of babies pays well, I thought to myself admiring his shiny modern digs. At least for him anyway, and he was right of course. Mothers are not the only ones that can act as a partner for tiny tots; Dads, Aunts, and Grandparents can also be in attendance. In my experience as an Instructor, the people I listed are hardly ever in attendance. These classes should be retitled: Nanny and Me.

Brooklyn has several neighborhoods which are notorious for having a prevalence of nannies, also referred to as Domestic Care Employees. In affluent areas such as Park Slope, Carroll Gardens, Cobble Hill and Fort Greene it is a common sight to see Black women towing around young white children.

There are reportedly just under ten-thousand child-care workers in Brooklyn. Most of them are of West-Indian descent. This number is most likely too low; it is difficult to find statistics on these women due to their undocumented status. It is this lack of documentation which makes their situation unpredictable.

Twenty eight percent of nannies are paid less than the minimum wage. They work without contracts and often without paid overtime. The occupational life of these women varies with the employer.They are often highly motivated to stay in unstable working conditions which include. They risk being terminated without notice or severance; sometimes working over 40 hours a week for employers who do not provide health insurance.

 Many that I have spoken to are aware that economic progress will not begin with them, but with their US educated children. I spoke with a Nanny named Cathy who works on the Upper East Side. She works 12-hour days, and sees her own daughter roughly three hours a day. However she talked almost exclusively about using her income to secure her daughter's future. "By time I came here I was in my 30s, I want to go to school but how could I support myself and my daughter? I can't do both. I try to support Lia in her studies as much as possible. I try to buy all the books and Ipads, everything I can. She has never missed a school trip," Cathy tells me. Lia is only ten, but already Cathy carved out time to take her on a college tour.

Sending remittances back to their origin country is a popular act in the West-Indian community. There is an obligation being in America to help family members back home. They are also responsible for their family and children who resides with them here, often sacrificing time with their children in order to take care of others.

Domestic work is fundamentally about taking care of others; taking care of homes, minds, and bodies. In the affluent neighborhoods that were mentioned previously, there is not a lot of racial or socioeconomic diversity. Park Slope has a population that is seventy percent white and, eight percent black. Nannies help create a sense of diversity, but one should exam if the impact is a good one.

These women are in part rearing the children of others; helping to shape a newly minted human being. However, their presence in the household is often the only interaction these young minds have with Black women. This potentially first introduces the idea of the Black woman as a servant. These women are responsible for feeding and clothing these children, but also appeasing their whims. One can only wonder if this early introduction of this subordinate relationship fosters a schema of Black women which will be detrimental later on.

It would be irresponsible to place the blame on these women for perpetuating a social hierarchy. If the status of the position were elevated it would be a catch 22. If child-care domestic workers were given higher wages, paid time-off, and health insurance the position would be more desirable- and a lot more competitive. We would surely see an influx in interest from women who were citizens, better educated, and most likely whiter. The position would stop reaffirming the ideology of the Black women as servants, because they would no longer be working in these positions.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Electra Telesford is a writer from Brooklyn. She is interested in discussing race, religion, politics and culture in digestible and not-at-all-boring ways. You can find her funny one-liners on twitter, @ Electra_Teles.

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